Jerry Yang

Young, Talented & Responsible

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Farrah Gray was only 8 years old when the challenges of brainstorming, creating, marketing, negotiating and managing were thrust on him. “What could an 8-year old probably know about business?” you might want to ask, but Farrah explains that he had no choice but to rise up to the challenge posed to him by his mother’s doctor who told him that with his mother so close to a heart attack, the responsibility of catering for the family was now his.

Farrah Gray grew up in the ‘projects’ in the Southside of Chicago, USA, what we call the ghetto, and like many of his peers at that time, he lived without a father and with a mother who had to work three jobs to keep the family stable. His mother worked so hard and long until she copped a disease which the doctor warned could lead to a heart attack. Facing a grim future, Farrah left home one bright morning and swore not to return home until he knew exactly how he was going to help his mother pay the bills. Young Farrah started out by marketing stones picked from the street as door-stops and paper-weights, then selling home-made shampoo, created from mixing residues of old shampoos, and then created the Urban Neighbourhood Economic Empowerment Club (UNEEC) as an investment club in his neighbourhood.

Before long, Farrah and his friends had raised substantial sums of money from their investments and business transactions that enabled him to open an office on Wall Street at the age of 13 and start a food company, which he sold for $1.5milllion at the age of 14. Farrah Gray was renamed Dr. Farrah Gray at the age of 21 when he was awarded a honorary doctorate degree of Humane Letters from Allen University and cited as an entrepreneurial icon and business mogul at the age of 21. Becoming the youngest person ever to own an office on Wall Street, a millionaire at 14 and a ‘Dr.’ at 21 is no mean feat by anyone; it only affirms the assertion that it is possible to be young, talented and responsible.

There are many people, all over the world, who could make Dr. Gray’s story sound like old men’s tales; there are many people with record-breaking feats inside them which they have not transmitted to reality. There are many achievers, even in the ‘dark’ continent of Africa, who have failed to discover their comparative advantages and major in them. Why are there so few people at the tip of the financial triangle of the world and so many, just like them at the bottom rung of the ladder? Has God, in his infinite mercies, endowed some with unmistakable talent and denied others the same privilege? Well, that doesn’t align with our idea of an ‘Almighty’, who is said to be no respecter of persons.

There is a recurring factor in the stories of all the known achievers in the world today, which explains why they ‘made it’ while others did not. There was something the successful entrepreneurs paid attention to, which whining underachievers ignored and much to their own peril. Richard Branson discovered a passion to create an ‘alternative culture’ lifestyle at the age of 16, and thus he started his first business with $6, publishing a magazine that sold about 50, 000 copies in its first issue. He had struck success and he couldn’t stop so he quit school to run the magazine. His headmaster wrote him a note, saying “Congratulations Branson. I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire”. He not only became a millionaire, he became a billionaire long before the turn of the millennium and still enjoys his alternative lifestyle sporting long hair, a goatee and a pair of blue jeans and sitting atop a company named with the ‘sacred’ word: VIRGIN!

The same can be said of Berry Gordy who discovered a deep passion for music in his early 20s. He went all around listening to performers, partying in nightclubs, discussing the music industry with anyone interested and writing his own songs. He suffered a few rejections when he made attempts to start music publishing and recording, but picking himself up and running with his vision proved to be the key to his success as he recorded a national hit ‘Reet Petite’ with Jackie Wilson at the age of 28. At the age of 30, his song ‘Lonely Teardrops’ sold a million copies and from there, he set up his own recording studio, Motown Records, and produced superstars like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and many others. At the peak of its success, Motown Records was a multi-million dollar business.

Jerry Yang was only a school boy when he built a webpage to contain his golf scores, his name in Chinese characters and his list of favourite internet sites. In essence, Jerry Yang was only having fun, but that fun was what led him and his friend, David Filo to build a directory webpage, which they called Yahoo!, which made them multi-billionaires before the age of 30. Oprah Winfrey was paid $500 dollars for a giving a speech at 12 years and that evening, she told her father that what she wanted to do when she grew up was to be “paid to talk”. Today, she is the richest and most powerful black woman in the world and the first African-American billionaire. Tiger Woods is only 34 years, but he has become the first billionaire sportsman, merely by doing what he loves to do, kicking a little white ball with a long slim stick.

The list goes on and on, there is no human being on the surface of the earth who was not born with an innate gift or talent, the only line of distinction between young achievers and old underachievers is the failure to discover that talent or the laziness to major on that talent. There is nothing as good as getting paid for having fun; that is, doing what one loves best and getting paid for it, because other people see it as a chore. The best way to become successful, as a young person is to discover what you have a comparative advantage in and to do it better than anyone else can. Donald Trump said, ‘A little effort is the best replacement for excuses’; young people have to close their eyes and their minds to the many distractions that try to prove that they can’t be successful and focus all their energies on their instincts and talents. According to Alexander Graham Bell, “The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus”.

The world awaits people who will look inwards, discover their God-given gifts and talents and display them for the world to see and in the process, turn over millions, because the world respects creation. Young people, it is time to spend time on your focus, discover your ambitions and passions and pay attention to what interests you. Robert Kiyosaki preaches FOCUS, which according to him means Follow One Course Until Successful, as the key to success. For any young person who aspires to great success, there is no one standing in your way. If you want something, you must realize that the desire is not enough, neither is the gift or the talent; you need to do what you have to do, in order to do what you want to do. The key to success is embedded in this simple question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”